This year's edition of the 12 Bands of Christmas compilation might be the most consistent in the locally produced CD's history.
That's not necessarily a good thing.
While there are a few real treasures to be taken from the dozen tracks, most of the music suffers from a certain sameness and lack of imagination. The result is a record that feels very cohesive -- just not very interesting.
Too many of the artists chose to follow staid and standard arrangements, playing familiar songs the way they have been played for years. There's no crime in that, I suppose. It just doesn't make for a collection of memorable tracks.
Here's a rundown of both the successful songs and those left wanting.
G-City Rockers -- Rock & Roll Christmas : A nice opener. There's no real re-invention of the wheel here, but the song rocks along nicely and seems to set a lively tone for the record.
Tara Scheyer and the Mud Puppy Band -- All I Want for Christmas is You : The Mud Puppies have become 12 Bands regulars, and with good reason. The band, under the watchful eye of Scheyer, has become one of Augusta's more interesting success stories. Though the band's songs and shows are developed with younger audiences in mind, the smart arrangements are always interesting. This year's features a great tap-dancing breakdown.
Sibling Strings -- What Child Is This? : This act features some of the most talented and respected musicians in Augusta. That might work against it. Though perfectly serviceable, I expected -- still expect -- something very special from them. Perhaps live Sibling Strings will manage to deliver in a way it didn't on the recording.
The Unmentionables -- Christmas Again : A rockabilly tune, particularly one as clever as this, needs to be played and recorded with a sense of abandon. I don't feel that here. I think greater emphasis on the guitars and pushing the tempo ever so slightly might have done wonders for this track.
John Kolbeck -- Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin' : This amalgamation of blue-eyed soul and Southern-fried funk seems appropriate in James Brown's hometown. It's a little less sharp production-wise than I would have liked, but there are enough interesting musical components to make me curious about the live rendition.
Will McCranie -- Go Tell It On the Mountain : I've been an outspoken admirer of McCranie's 52/52 Project, now growing to a close. Over the course of the past year he has recorded a single song every week. My hope was that experience might encourage him to experiment a bit more on his 12 Bands track. Instead, he presents a pretty standard rendition of this oft-recorded classic. It's good, but not the gem I was hoping Will would produce.
Brandon Bower -- The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire) : There are very few chances taken here, either. Ironically, it's a gambit that this time seems to work in the artist's favor. By keeping thing simple, Bower draws attention to his voice and, by offering a sterling rendition of the song, celebrates the traditions of the season in what feels like a very personal way.
NoStar -- I Believe In Father Christmas : Behold the new model NoStar. No longer content to bury his talents as both a writer and, in this case, arranger under squalling guitar, the band's Carey Murdock instead embraces his inner Springsteen, turning out well-honed rock played with control and intelligence. I would have liked to have seen slightly less polished production on this track, but that's just me.
My Instant Lunch -- O Little Town of Bethlehem : This one's big. An ambitious and sprawling arrangement catapults this familiar song into Queen or Muse territory. Some might find this rendition to be a bit too much. I love its audacity and unfettered emotion. It might be my favorite track on the record.
The Crowns -- Baby's First Christmas : What begins as a sweet but relatively safe song elevates when this talented act kicks in with the harmonies. It's amazing to hear musicians performing at this level. It's the sort of communication, borne of instinct and chemistry, that can never be replicated. You either have it or you don't.
48Volt -- Fake Snow : One of the real wild cards on this year's release, 48Volt's tune is neither holly nor jolly. Instead, it's a relatively gripping tale of a criminal on the lam and taking risks in order to make his family's holiday just a bit brighter. Though the production could be a bit more muscular, and there are a couple of musical moments that could have been edited, the story itself is enthralling and there are some truly genius lyrical moments.
L.i.E. -- Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer : I was truly anxious to hear what this prog-minded metal band might contribute to the collection. I had high hopes. Sadly, in going for a novelty tune, I feel as though L.i.E. undersold its talent. Instead of recording the hard rock epic I know this band had in them, the group turned in a percussion-driven rendition of a mediocre song. That and the mock metal vocal delivery gives the whole affair the vibe of a Muppet Show outtake.